A few days ago the inside shelves on my refrigerator door were flood with a number of general purpose sauces. I discovered the first one while trying to recreate the dining hall’s O’Brien potatoes and steamed, yellow squash, though unsuccessfully. The squash, as it turns out, was over-dilled. Taking some liberty with the recipe, which I never had, I roasted some garlic and carmelized half an onion in the cooking oil. Lunch that day was full of powerful flavors all of which seemed to be competing rather than cooperating. To cover the taste of it all, I turned to the A1 steak sauce and ketchup. But, ah! what’s this? There lay unopened a bottle of Busha Browne’s original spicy Planters steak sauce, good it read, for meats, poultry, and seafood. I was eating vegetables, but meaty ones, so I thought I’d give it a try.
Busha Browne’s is a product of Jamaica. As such, it needs to be imported. And as you remember from high school history, that means the British are making out on it via that awful institution mercantilism. Busha Browne’s Planters sauce is overpriced. My dad also bought its sister product, a spicy tomato — or love apple, the tomato was once thought to have aphrodisiacal properties. It doesn’t. — a spicy tomato sauce. I say, stick with ketchup.
Boston baked beans are one of my more favorite foods. It was rare that I’d have the opportunity to find them in the dining hall at college. But now that I’m home and once again sovereign over my own cuisine, that is, now that I can tell my dad what to pick up on the way home from work, I can revel in Boston baked beans whenever I choose. And I choose often. Except my dad likes to improvise and innovate. He would’ve been a fantastic musician, but it makes for dangerous shopping.
Two days ago I woke up to an empty apartment in time to make myself lunch. Inspired by Martha and Conan, I decided to fashion myself a typical Irish breakfast, sans the Guiness and Jameson’s: one egg [I couldn’t muster the energy to cook the bacon to fry the egg in the fat.] on a piece of toast [I choose a nice, long slice from our periennal supply of sourdough.] covered in beans.
Before cooking beans, or anything for that matter, I always read the suggested cooking instructions just in case there are any quirks I ought to be aware of. The plainly decorated aquamarine label got me suspicious. It isn’t often that manufacturers are confident enough in their name to print it only on a label without some other sort of enticing visual. The simplicity of the Heinz logo put me a bit off. But all would be explained shortly. On the back, they gave cooking instructions for the microwave and for the hob. Apparently dad has started to import the beans as well as the sauces. This can had come from England. In fact, he had purchased a garden variety of vegetarian baked beans, beans in tomato sauce, and beans enriched with soy and spiced with mustard — but no Boston baked beans.
Unafraid however disappointed, I cooked my beans in tomato sauce on the hob at low to medium heat, stirring constantly, watching to keep from boiling as not to impair the taste per the label’s directives. When things were ready I smeared the beans atop my egg and toast, seasoned everything lightly with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper and ran to the refrigerator for general purpose sauce.
This time I noticed a bottle of HP sauce, the original brown sauce next to the Busha Browne’s.
Long ago in high school I once told DJ that I might be moving to France; my dad was in a position to take a job there and the whole family’d have to relocate. In the end, no one moved, that year. But since then, DJ will periodically bring this up. If something shows up in the house from far away but not too far away, he’ll assume my dad voyaged there for the day to pick up some groceries. It wouldn’t be so funny except that DJ has gone to Baltimore with me and my dad for the day. We flew down from Logan, saw Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, went to the National Aquarium, and flew back. In fact, I’ve only ever been to Baltimore twice. Both times I flew in and out the same day. The second time I wasn’t even with my father. I hope this doesn’t mean I’ve turned into him.
But the sauce: I put it on my Irish breakfast; I put it on my dinner that night; I smear HP sauce on everything now. I don’t even like it that much. It lacks that peppery, steak taste. A few summers ago, when I had almost no money and lived off of $20 a week, I’d swill a swish or two of Worcestershire sauce. Despite its obviously being liquid, I could trick myself into believing I was eating meat. The number three is three fire trucks without the fire trucks; a good steak, it seems, is a good steak with a splash of Worcestershire sauce without the steak.
You can’t do that with HP brown. It’s sweet and tangy — it’s decidedly weaker than its competitors. There’s probably an analogy about the cumulative strength of the British empire compared to the individual power of its constituent colonies. If there is, I’m not clever enough to find it. Still, I find myself reaching back for more. I just put some on a slice of left-over pizza.
As the label says:
Everything goes well with HP sauce. Great for spicing up chips, bacon sandwiches, and snacks such as jacket potatoes and baked beans.
I guess I was right on.
HP Sauce: the original and the best!
Lea and Perrins Worchestershire sauce was first bottled in 1839. HP didn’t come around until 1899. HP is suitable for vegetarians whereas Worchestershire sauce is not. Maybe they were pointing to their hippy-friendly, health-forward originality. In 1899 England, even the carrots weren’t vegetarian.